After Yaesu announced last week that it was discontinuing production of the FT-818ND, hams across the globe expressed their opinions about this pint-sized rig.
It seemed to me that the majority who posted messages in email groups and on social media had high praise for the FT-817/818. Indeed, many of those same people purchased an FT-818ND the same day of the announcement. The rush of FT-818ND purchases wiped out new inventory at most US retailers overnight.
Not everyone had praise for the FT-817/818 series, though. Many felt the ‘818 was a relic of the past and irrelevant in 2023. Some even posted long “good riddance” rants about the FT-818.
Let’s face it…
Our love of radios is highly subjective
What one person loves, someone else might hate. This is especially the case in the incredibly diverse ham radio world where radios are used in different parts of the spectrum, with different modes, for different activities, and in different operating environments.
I’ve never worked for a radio manufacturer, but I have friends and contacts who do. I also alpha and beta test gear for various ham radio manufacturers. On occasion, I’ve even been in the loop from the preliminary stages of product design as a manufacturer sought confidential input.
What I’ve learned is that, even for legacy radio manufacturers, each new product is a calculated risk. Several points have to be addressed and assessed.
- Market niche: Is the new product unique enough that it carves out its own niche?
- Innovator: or is the new product a major leap in innovation that would would make it more competitive over other similar products. In other words, could it be a market “disruptor”–? (FYI: the FT-817 was very much a market disruptor in 2001.)
- Price: Can the new product be built in a way that the manufacturer has a sustainable profit margin and competitive price point? Transceivers, in general, have thin profit margins compared to, say, radio accessories.
- Parts availability: Are the new radio’s critical internal components carefully sourced so that if one becomes obsolete, a replacement can be used without substantially modifying the radio design? Are there multiple options for key components?
- Performance: Can the new radio be built to a spec that makes it competitive in terms of performance.
- Leverage: Is there a way to leverage existing radio design to cut down on R&D costs?
These are just a few of the questions a manufacturer must consider before investing in the development of a new product.
If it can’t be profitable, it’s not worth producing.
Why did the FT-817/818 have such a long market life?
The FT-817, when introduced in 2001, was a game-changer. Up to that point, there were no mass produced QRP transceivers that had an internal battery option, with general coverage, and sported VHF/UHF multi-mode operation. It was designed to be rugged, small, and versatile. The FT-817 delivered all of this from day one for under $700 US (in 2021 money).
There still is no direct equivalent to the FT-817/818 as I post this in January 2023. The only widely-available HF QRP transceiver on the market that also sports VHF and UHF multi-mode operation is the Icom IC-705 which has a much broader feature set and costs roughly double that of the Yaesu FT-818ND.
If you’re interested in a deeper dive on this topic, check out my recent article, “The enduring Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 series transceivers.”
My dream FT-818ND replacement?
The most comments I’ve seen from readers is they’d like to see Yaesu come out with an Icom IC-705 killer: an affordable HF/VHF/UHF SDR radio with a color touch screen, spectrum display, high performance receiver, built-in sound card, and wireless connectivity. All that in a field-rugged body. Basically, something that looks and acts like the IC-705, but even better and for a lower price point.
Frankly, that’s a lofty goal, especially in 2023 when production and component costs are so high.
While I think a Yaesu “IC-705” would be a really cool radio, it actually doesn’t tap the same market as the Yaesu FT-818ND; those same customers who made the FT-817/818 a cash cow for Yaesu for more than two decades.
I know because I am in that market.
I don’t personally want another IC-705. I want a radio that is more akin to the FT-818, but with enhanced features and performance. If I could hire Yaesu to make an FT-818 replacement just for me (keeping it relatively realistic) here’s what it would be:
- As rugged as the FT-818 with the addition of waterproofing or some sense of dust/weather sealing
- Current consumption closer to 100-130 mA in receive
- Built-in sound card for digital modes and USB-C connectivity
- Built-in automatic ATU
- Built-in USB-C rechargeable battery pack
- Variable filter widths
- CW and SSB message memories
- QSK with PIN Diode switching
- Better SSB audio controls (EQ, compression, etc.)
- A receiver front-end at least as robust as the FT-818
- Up to 10 watts output power
- Chassis attachment points for third party fames/cages, etc.
- A price point below $1,000 US
If I had to drop one of the options above to keep the price point below $1,000, I would drop the internal ATU.
Basically, I would want a radio that is built for field deployment, flexibility, and utility. Think a Yaesu version of the Discovery TX-500 but with VHF and UHF.
Love it or hate it, the FT-817/818 was a profitable series for Yaesu.
The QRP field radio market is actually quite a competitive space. All of Yaesu’s latests radio designs have focused more on high-performance, contest-grade receiver architecture in a 100+ watt package. All of their latest radios have sported a version of their hybrid SDR design and a color touch screen display. Performance is benchmark (just look at the top five radios on Rob Sherwood’s table).
To be very clear, I have no inside information here. I have no idea if Yaesu is working on a new QRP radio.
I can’t help but think, though, that Yaesu would want to dip their toes, once again, in the QRP field radio market. With POTA and SOTA operation on the rise, I’m sure there’s temptation to tap that market again.
I would hope, though, that Yaesu might stick with the DNA of the FT-818 and 817 and merely improve a good thing.
At least, that’s my opinion and I will respect your point of view.
What do you think?
Consider sharing your vision in the comments as I will send this post to Yaesu in the near future.